Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Black-winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni) - Grove Ferry NNR, Kent. 23/05/09

Black-winged Pratincole

Pratincoles have always been a species I've been desperate to see, not just a life tick but a species that when flicking through bird books has always found me stopping at the Pratincole page where I have often stopped to daydream and hope of seeing this enigmatic small, dumpy tern-like wader. I've seen some excellent birds on my birdwatching journey and exploits but this is one that I really wanted to see.

I had never seen any of the Pratincole family so when a Black-winged Pratincole was found in Kent on the 8th May I was more than interested, with the Black-winged Pratincole being the rarer of the 2 Pratincole species recorded in this country I couldn't resist the chance to go and see it. Due to other engagements I couldn't go straight away and hoped that the bird would remain until I had a chance to go and see it. I contacted my Berks Bird Race team mate Roy Rose and we arranged a visit for the next free available date for both of us.

Saturday the 23rd arrived and thankfully the Black-winged Pratincole was still at Grove Ferry NNR, Kent and often commuting to the nearby Stodmarsh Reserve, some excellent photos published on
Birdguides added to my excitement and as soon as Roy arrived we loaded up the car and set off for Kent.

We arrived at Grove Ferry NNR and parked in the car park with Roy paying for a ticket that we later realised we didn't need on a weekend. Crossing the road we headed along the footpath towards a group of people assembled in the distance, walking along the path Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Sedge Warbler could all be heard singing in the hedgerows and trees beside the path. After a short walk we arrived at the observation point and joined twenty or so birders who were viewing a mud spit on the water, the Black-winged Pratincole was present but hidden behind grass and weeds and a group of Mallards that were asleep or preening. It was possible to see the tail feathers of the Prratincole and every so often a brief glimpse of it was seen as the Mallards moved around it, I was taken back by how small it was and the surrounding Mallards gave a good size comparison.

Whilst we waited for the Pratincole to come in to view from behind the Mallards we scanned the wetlands, a single Redshank and 2 Greenshank were wading through the edges of the water behind the spit, 2 Ringed Plovers and 3 Common Terns on the spit, 3 (2m&1f) Garganey were present often swimming briefly in to view before disappearing amongst the reeds and 4 Black-tailed Godwits were busy feeding on an adjacent pool.

After a short wait the Pratincole became visible again amongst the Mallards on the spit, it took a short walk from the group of Mallards picking off a few low flying insects from the ground before taking to the air where it slowly gained height and began hawking insects in flight. It continued hawking acrobatically for at least 30 minutes often gaining great height before swooping down as it searched for insects, it's Tern-like flight was incredible to see and we got great views as the Pratincole flew closer and closer until it was almost overhead.

Looking out from the observation ramp a Kestrel appeared in the distance shortly followed by a single Hobby which drifted overhead, there was so much going on at this point it was difficult to know what to look at. 2 Marsh Harriers drifted over the reeds and gave very good views as they slowly quartered the reedbeds often coming to rest in the reeds. A single Little Egret appeared low in flight over the wetlands and by the time I had quickly checked where the Pratincole was the Egret had disappeared. During the whole time we were there a Cuckoo called constantly and a brief burst of song from a Cetti's Warbler was also heard.

We remained watching the Pratincole in flight until after about 30 minutes it returned to the spit where it landed and gave good views for a few minutes, it was now possible to see the small red base to the bill and the small tail in relation to the wing-tips. It didn't take long before the Pratincole shuffled behind a couple of Mallards and again became hidden behind them. After a couple of hours we decided to head for home, as we headed back to the car a Turtle Dove was purring from beside the path which rounded off a fantastic day.

Male Garganey

I guess we timed our visit just right as the Pratincole was last seen mid-afternoon on the 25th at Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, with no more sightings since.

For some excellent photos of the Black-winged Pratincole visit Steve Ashton's website

Monday, 25 May 2009

TABCG Berkshire Bird Race 2009

TABCG Berkshire Bird Race 2009 Winners
Marek Walford, Mike McKee & Paul Bright-Thomas(insert) 114 Species.

No sooner had I returned from the TABCG Wales trip my attention turned towards the forthcoming TABCG Berkshire Bird Race.

With Roy Rose, Cathy McEwan and myself teaming up again we aimed to beat our previous years record and get at least 100 species, with little migrant activity we had to make sure we got all the common species with a few 'specials' along the way. Knowing the top teams would be recording somewhere between 105 to 110 species the 100 mark would likely put our team in the middle of the pack, but this could be decided by 1 or 2 species so we would have to re configure our last years route to maximise a few of the nocturnal species and find time to get to at least 2 more sites in East Berks.

In previous years we had done a few reccy's to a few of the local sites but this year we had done very little indeed, Roy had located a couple of local Owl sites and I had a few extra sites planned to the route. Last years race had proved 2 sites extra were needed to achieve a semi decent score in the hundreds and we certainly needed to find some extra time along the way, it always seems easy in principle but time ebbs away waiting or looking for that elusive species whatever it may be and lets face it when you've been on the go since before midnight there's times when the brain says go and the feet sat no. At this point even the most common species are valuable and can spur an extra surge of adrenaline to carry you on to the next site.

So this year I had made a slight change to our starting place in the hope that we might get some of the nightime species early thus giving us more time later on to find a few of the difficult daytime species at some new sites. Well you know what they say about best-laid plans!.

The early hours of the bird race went fairly well with the team recording some of the important nocturnal species, 4 Owls & Nightjar amongst a few common species. Despite trying a few locations we didn't connect with Woodcock and another night calling specialty failed to call.

The rest of the day went fairly well as we picked up Warblers and the more regular daytime species, a visit to Coombe Wood being extremely productive giving us sightings of Marsh & Willow Tit and Raven. After visiting another part of the downs we headed East stopping off at Greenham Common, Thatcham Discovery Centre and Lower Farm. We lost a lot of time in this stint of the race but desperately needed a few of the key species at these sites which we didn't find for sometime. We managed to make up for this at the Thatcham Discovery Centre where the Red Crested Pochard that had been on site for awhile was no more than 8 - 10-ft away from the bank, a major bonus that wasn't expected so quickly. Sadly the time we made up was soon evaporated as we waited in the hide at Lower Farm for a duck that Roy and Cathy had seen but I hadn't, with some small consolation we did manage to pick up a few extra species whilst we waited.

We continued Eastwards stopping off at Padworth and Woolhampton and returned to pick up a species that we had missed during the night stint but by now time was well and truly against us. There was no time to make it to West Berkshire where we really needed some of the forest species so headed for the Searles Lane area instead, from here we made our way back to the finish at the Fox and Hounds Pub stopping at sites along the way.

Unfortunately we never got to the 100 species and instead finished on 98, we recorded some good species and missed some glaring common species again. The winning team finishing with a very respectable 114 species, Congratulations to the winners and well done to everybody that took part.(Results Below)

We also managed to see Grey Squirrel, Fox, Badger, Roe Deer, Muntjac & Stoat.

I will write a complete post of the day once I receive our bird race sheets.

More information on the TABCG Berkshire Bird Race can be found here

2009 TABCG Berkshire Bird Race Results:

1. Marek Walford, Mike McKee, Paul Bright-Thomas 114
2. Fraser Cottington, Adam Bassett, Andy Johnson 113
3. Ken Moore, Ken Spring, Nigel Rampton 107
4. Hugh Netley, Jim Reid, Steve Ricks 101
Bruce Archer, Robert Godden, Roger Stansfield 101
5. Cathy McEwan, Ashley Stow, Roy Rose 98
6. Mike Taylor, Phil Bysh, Adrian Lawson 96*
7. Chris Robinson, Renton Righelato, Jim Burnett 94*
8. Jan Main, Milary Morton, Mary-Anne Thomas 73**

* Entire race conducted on bike
** Most of the race conducted on foot

"Bird of the day" was Redwing, recorded by Mike Taylor, Phil Bysh & Adrian Lawson.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

TABCG Wales Trip - 03/05/09


We arrived at Goldcliff to glorious sunshine and parked up in the small car park at the entrance to the reserve. As we got out of the car a Chiffchaff greeted us with it's song, amazingly from the same tree as in the previous two years trips, whether it's the same individual each year is another question but is does seem that it's waiting for our arrival each year!

After we had grabbed a quick bite of food, our scopes and binoculars the group headed through the gate and along the track next to the wetlands getting views of Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler along the hedgerows. After assembling at the first screen we viewed the reserve, Avocet, Little Egret, Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Redshank & Ringed Plover being the more interesting species present.


Plenty of Skylark and Meadow Pipit activity in front of the screen with one individual sitting on the post in front of us while it preened, surprisingly no Curlew or Whimbrel which we could normally guarantee seeing.

Meadow Pipit

Viewing the wetlands from the second screen found a single Bar-headed Goose and Barnacle Goose hiding in the grass, presumably both are escapees from Slimbridge. No sight or sound from Lesser Whitethroat which we have been treated to in previous years but did have a Cuckoo calling from the field behind the reserve for most of the visit. we left Goldcliff with the car park Chiffchaff doing his bit and a male Blackcap skulking in the bushes below him.

A short drive and we soon arrived at Newport Wetlands RSPB, from the car park we soon heard Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler calling and after assembling ourselves we headed towards the reserve centre. Whilst I was hoping that the Subalpine Warbler that had been seen the weekend before would still be present I wasn't very optimistic, sadly the Subalpine Warbler hadn't been seen for a few days and although I was disappointed there would still be plenty to see.

Newport Wetlands RSPB

Walking out into the reserve from the RSPB centre we were greeted with a Cuckoo calling long and hard from a nearby tree, plenty of Warblers skulking in the hedgerows which included Blackcap, Common & Lesser Whitethroat. I was tuned in to the Lesser Whitethroat call due to our garden visitor only days before and Roy and I waited for it to show, it didn't and as the rest of the group left us and began to head towards the reserve we left the Lesser Whitethroat hoping to catch views of it on the way out. We caught up with the group at the entrance to the reserve and in good time as a Cetti's Warbler burst in to song quickly followed by another at the other end of a long thicket, we waited and listened to them as they continued their rivalry by song, each bird bursting in to song as the other finished. We had a few brief views and then headed in to the reserve. The reedbeds were a hive of activity and we quickly spotted Sedge Warbler as a singing bird edged it's way up a reed stem in full view, Sedge Warblers could be heard singing throughout the reeds and the gentle breeze often showed individuals as the reeds parted in the wind. We headed towards the East Usk Lighthouse stopping at the first viewing screens on either side of the path that view the waterways, they had little activity with a few ducks but little else until somebody called 'Bearded Tit'. I quickly looked through the scope to find a female at the top of the reeds which soon dropped to the bottom of the reeds and out of sight, it was so quick that most of the group missed it and it was then that everybody searched the reeds intently in the hope of finding another. We didn't have to wait too long and by the end of the visit everybody in the group had one or two good views of them.

Common Whitethroat

Feral Rock Dove

We carried on towards the East Usk Lighthouse crossing over the rubber walkway and through the dense reedbeds on each side, you really get the feel of the reedbeds as you pass over the water beneath you and cross into the reeds. Looking out to sea from the lighthouse we could see the tide was out but there was nothing to be seen across the mudflats, we continued along the pathway hearing and seeing Reed & Sedge Warbler and a few Common Whitethroats put on good shows as they sang from he top of many of the thickets and bushes along the path. Another view across the mudflats and out to sea brought a few distant waders in to view but sadly they were just too far to identify.

Sedge Warbler

We had a long day ahead of us so we headed back to the centre for a quick coffee and use of the amenities before we headed off to look for Dipper at our regular site. Making our way back to the reserve centre we stopped at the viewing screens again where we got fantastic views of a pair of Little Grebes with four young in tow, each adult had two young with them and they dived for small fry below us which they then fed to their young. We continued on to the centre where Roy and I stopped at the hedgerow hoping that the Lesser Whitethroat would show itself, after a few minutes we got some great views as it appeared at the top of the thickets along the edge of the path and then later by the car park.

Little Grebe
Little Grebe

After leaving Newport Wetlands we headed off to our regular Dipper site on the River Usk, on arrival we searched some of the regular spots and after awhile we finally found a Dipper along the river bank. No Goosander or Common Sandpiper this time but we did mange to see Grey Wagtail. The Dipper eventually showed well allowing everybody in the group to get a good view as it preened on a rock on the side of the river and by the time we left we had also seen another flying along the river.

River Usk

Our next stop was the Elan Valley, this is one of my favourite locations on the Wales trip and gives an excellent opportunity to see Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler up close. As we entered the pathway up the side of the Elan Valley we soon were gifted great views of a singing male Pied Flycatcher in the trees next to the path, he continued to flit through the trees before being lost to view amongst one of the Oak trees. As the Pied Flycatcher disappeared from sight we were soon picked up on the unmistakable "spinning coin" trill of a Wood Warbler and didn't have to wait long before we spotted it as it flew into the trees in front of us. we hadn't walked more than 25ft and already seen two of the key species of the day and I decided to get the camera at the ready, digiscoping isn't easy here due to most of the birds flitting around in the tree tops and not sitting still for too long. As we made our way along the path and up the hill we soon spotted Redstart, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Nuthatch and Siskin amongst some of the commoner members of the Tit family, a few more Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers were also seen and further up the path we managed to see a Tawny Owl in one of the nestboxes

Wood Warbler

On the way back down we added Goldcrest and Treecreeper to the day list and again had great views of Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, approaching the car park 2 "Kronking" Ravens drifted over the hills. This is where we said our goodbyes before heading for home, the rest of the group headed to the Rhayader hills where they saw Wheatear, Whinchat and Stonechat.

Elan Valley
Photos from previous trips can be found on the TABCG website here

Monday, 4 May 2009

More Madcap & Mayhem From The Punkbirders!

Definitely top of my viewing list at the moment and certainly one to watch, Punkbirder the Movie(Teaser Trailer)-not for the fainthearted.

A Brief Visit - Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) 01/05/09

An excellent addition was added to the garden list on Friday. Whilst listening to a male Chaffinch singing with vigour from the trees nearby I heard a call that I couldn't quite recognise, I waited for it to call again to try and locate the bird and after a few short burst of song I found it calling from one of the trees on the perimeter of the nearby paddock. I now had to wait for the unknown individual to appear from the far side of the tree, with a barbed wire fence running along the adjacent field it wasn't possible to view it so I had to sit tight and wait for it to show itself. As I listened to the short, sharp rattling song I was beginning to think that it was a Finch or Bunting, the song of male Chaffinch that was singing away nearby sounded similar but the unknown individual's song seemed to stop short of the final flourish of notes. I was scratching my head at this point and was going over songs in my head to shed some light. Firstly the 'Little bit of bread but no cheese' song of the Yellowhammer, this was nothing like it and it certainly didn't have the whistling dull song of Reed Bunting or the wheezy calls of many of the common Finches. So by now I'm edging towards Warblers, Obviously not Chiffchaff and this song was far too raw and rattling to be confused with the melodic tones of Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler. Eventually after about 5 minutes the bird flew in to an adjacent tree which luckily has only just started to leaf giving me clear views of it as it perched in the bows, it was now clear to see that it was a male Lesser Whitethroat and I watched it sing from the tree for a good few minutes before it flew along the row of trees coming to rest in a Hawthorn. From here it sang again and showed briefly before disappearing in to the undergrowth. It continued to sing on and off for about 30 minutes slowly moving from tree to tree along the hedgerow until it fell silent and couldn't be located. No doubt a brief visit from a migrating bird.

I have never recorded them in this area before so to have one actually in the garden is a fantastic record.

Garden List 2009
52. Lesser Whitethroat

Full Garden List
64. Lesser Whitethroat

Local Contryside 18/04/09

I took a drive round the Hambleden countryside today, with the area consisting of rolling hills, mixed woodlands and arable farmland there's a great variety of wildlife species to be seen but today was slightly different.

My first stop was Chisbridge Lane where a small covey of 6 Red-legged Partridge crossed the road in front of the car. A quick view across the fields revealed the usual Corvid flocks with a few Woodpigeon and Pheasant but little else.


Further along the lane I stopped to view some of the arable fields and soon found a Common buzzard and 3 red kites searching for food it the newly ploughed furrows, they were joined by both Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant. A number of Skylarks were singing from high above and a distant Yellowhammer could be heard singing from across the field. 4 Lapwings suddenly appeared from the edge of the field and soon took dislike to the Common Buzzard which they chased off noisily, the Buzzard finally coming to rest in a tree overlooking the field but not before putting up a large flock of Woodpigeon and Stock Dove which circled the field and then dropped back down in to nearby crops. A single Meadow Pipit flew over calling and a Kestrel was seen hovering over the fields.

'Leucistic' Pheasant

Whilst this was all going on I noticed a white object moving along the field edge some 300-400yrds away, it often disappeared through the fence to the next field and then back again and amongst the overgrown field edges was difficult to see. Finally it wandered in to view and I was greeted by an awesome sight, a White Pheasant! or correctly described as an 'Leucistic' Pheasant. It was a striking individual and I was disappointed it didn't show itself a bit better so I could have done it better justice with my photos, this wasn't to be and it skulked back into the long swards off grass and out of sight.

I headed off towards Heath and Homefield Wood next hoping that there would be a slim chance of hearing a Cuckoo in the area that I had heard one last year. I stopped at a number of locations in the area with no luck, a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing but nothing else. I carried on to Rockwell End but Before I got there I was halted in my tracks by a 'herd' of Helmeted Guinea Fowl which crossed the road in front of the car, I say 'herd' rather than flock because as they passed the car they were more reminiscent of 'herd' of elephants than a small group of birds. It was a bit surreal watching them pass before me and after they had all filed across the road and into the fields alongside me I parked up and went to have a look.

'Melanistic' Pheasant

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

They were feeding in a stubble field amongst Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant, one of which was another colourful individual, this time it being an 'Melanistic' Pheasant More Helmeted Guinea Fowl arrived through the hedge and by now there was in the region of 20 with more calling from the fields on the other side of the lane. this is the 3rd location I have seen Guinea Fowl in the area. I checked the fields once again hoping that a Grey Partridge might be involved in the melee, there wasn't but I did find a lone female Mallard sat in the earth which was a bit of a strange sight. Chiffchaff and Blackcap calling nearby, Red Kite & Buzzard present.

Helmeted Guinea Fowl


Brown Hare

Heading towards Hambleden a lone hare was feeding in one of the fields and despite managing to creep up on it and get a couple of photos it soon spotted me and darted off across the field. In the fields near Mill End at least 2 House Martins were with a group of Barn Swallow which were feeding on insects over the fields next to the Hambleden stream with another Chiffchaff calling nearby.